Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nom nom nom

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted this fuzzy fellow noshing on the remnants of the Mexican milkweed, Asclepias curassavica (or was it A. tuberosa?).
Estigmene acrea

I believe he's a mature Estigmene acrea larva. If my ID is correct, he will soon build a cocoon to spend the winter inside, and emerge as a Salt Marsh Moth in early spring.
Estigmene acrea

The wind was really whipping around around this day, and it was overcast, which made snapping shots of Esti difficult. I needed a really high ISO to get a high enough shutter speed to prevent blur with the lack of sunlight. But the wind didn't bother Esti one bit. In fact, he seemed to prefer dangling from the underside of the leaves to eat.
Estigmene acrea

In this shot, you can really see his abdominal prolegs, acting like little suction cups to keep him on the leaf.
Estigmene acrea

He really enjoyed eating the flowers as well as the leaves.
Estigmene acrea

He looked a bit like Phil Spector circa 2003.
Estigmene acrea

Unlike Phil Spector*, Esti had a cute gray and yellow belly with black spots, and little orangy feets, um, I mean thoracic legs.
Estigmene acrea

I grew the milkweed as a Monarch butterfly host plant, but have I seen any Monarch larvae? Sigh. Oh well, that's OK, there's plenty of host plants to go around in my garden. Maybe I should plant some Asclepias tuberosa next year...or is that A. curassavica? Sigh...


*Or so I assume. We'd have to ask Ronnie.


Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No freeze here

Good thing too, because by the time I got home and ate dinner, it was too late and too dark to do anything about it if it had.
Didn't Freeze

Message to NOAA and Austin's chief meteorologists: issuing a freeze warning with a prediction of low overnight temperatures "between 28°F and 39°F" is not very helpful. (p.s. 33°F-38°F is not freezing.) I know you have a tough job predicting the unpredictable, but next time, could you try to narrow it down a bit for us?



Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2010

Blooms, blooms, where are the blooms? The recent cold snaps have put all my Central Texas flowering perennials into a funk. I was about to give up on GBBD until suddenly, I saw this, hiding under the Swiss chard, next to the frilly asparagus fronds:

Saffron crocus

GASP! Saffron crocuses! You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Backstory: I've wanted to plant saffron crocuses ever since I first saw them in a Shepherd's Seeds catalog sometime in the early 1990s. At the time, my ex and I were living in various rental properties throughout Houston--duplexes with no gardens, apartments with blisteringly hot balconies (or no balcony at all)--none of which provided a lick of hope for naturalizing crocuses. We eventually bought a house in the late Nineties, but it came with a garden, and I didn't add much in the three years we lived there -- certainly not edibles. Fast forward a decade, through a divorce, a move to Austin, a second marriage, and a real garden with real garden beds. When I saw Crocus sativus bulbs on the Easy to Grow Bulbs site last fall, I couldn't resist. I purchased a package of 10 bulbs, although I didn't really have a spot for them.

Last November, I squeezed the crocus bulbs into a tiny spot in a tiny garden bed with no drip irrigation, partially shaded by a coral honeysuckle vine, and watered them well after planting. Thin green leaves came up in early spring, but no flowers. Oh well, I thought, and left them alone. The green leaves died back and disappeared. The bed got a fair amount of rain in spring. Once or twice a month in summer, the asparagus and chard in the same bed got watered by the garden hose, if it hadn't rained recently, when I thought about it. The bed got a lot of heat, and some morning sun, and dappled shade in the afternoon. I think I might have scattered some Ladybug 8-2-4 over the top of the soil once or twice; definitely last month, and probably in the spring sometime.

Although these conditions aren't exactly what was recommended, the crocuses seemed to have liked it all just fine, thank you very much, because here they are. See those bright red stigmas? Them's the goods, right there -- saffron, glorious saffron. There's only three red stigmas (or saffron threads) per flower, so it takes a lot of crocuses to get enough saffron to do much cooking. This also explains why saffron is So Darn Expensive.
Saffron crocus

The gorgeous purply-blue flowers only last a day or two, so it takes some vigilance to catch the saffron threads before the flower shrivels. This bloom is on its way out, and its stigmas are flopping. Quick, get the tweezers and a tiny pair of scissors! (Some gardeners snip off the whole bloom, but I can't do it.)
Saffron crocus

Here's my first saffron harvest: a whopping six strands! Whoo hoo!
Homegrown saffron

Well, I think It's a fine start. Like bulbs tend to do, C. sativus will multiply -- and how. There's a story on the Easy to Grow Bulbs site about a gardener who decided to move her dozen bulbs after a year in the ground, and found an amazing 64 bulbs in the soil! I'm already seeing more than a dozen tufts of green, so I'm very hopeful that I'll be whipping up oodles of paella, arroz con pollo, and fluffy Persian rice dishes very soon.

Saffron crocus

What other surprises are making gardeners gasp on this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day? Visit Carol's blog at May Dreams Gardens, then add your post to the list.



Words and photos © 2009-2010 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.